June 20, 2008

Talk with Alliance Boots chairman Pessina

Stefano Pessina (photo: Alliance Boots)
Stefano Pessina: "I like creating value through mergers" (photo: Alliance Boots)
Stefano Pessina, Executive Chairman of Alliance Boots, the UK pharmaceutical wholesale & drugstore giant, is impeccably polite. In common with Scrooge McDuck, the 67-year-old is also a personal billionaire, but, there the comparison with the famous Walt Disney character must end. Far more tellingly, in City circles they call this international private equity expert 'the silver fox'. For a man pushing €1.9bn in corporate net debt, he looked remarkably unfazed. During the interview, Pessina was never happier than when number crunching and talking about the synergies and costs of scale to be gained via mergers. In 2008/09 Alliance Boots posted revenues of €20bn, so he already has a lot of material to play with.
May 16, 2008

Whiskey talk with Jim Beam

Fred Noe, Jim Beam (photo: Bert Bostelmann)
Fred Noe: "If you or your readers ever need a free drink, come and knock glasses with me in Kentucky" (photo: Bert Bostelmann)
Frederick Booker Noe, III – or Fred Noe for short – is the global ambassador of the Jim Beam whiskey brand. Jim Beam belongs to the portfolio of Deerfield, Illinois-based Beam Global Spirits & Wine, Inc. Annual revenues of €1.7bn make it the fourth-largest spirits company in the world. Beam Global Spirits & Wine belongs, in turn, to Fortune Brands, Inc. But these are mere figures. The human touch is provided by this seventh-generation descendant of the founder whose face is pictured on every bottle of Jim Beam whiskey sold throughout the world. Fifty-two-year-old Fred Noe (pronounced no) has such a strong Kentucky drawl that an Englishman needs to strain his ears to understand what he is saying. But this captivating personality repays the effort by being immensely entertaining. Cheers!
May 9, 2008

Talk with Californian wine dynast Joseph Gallo

Joseph Gallo, CEO E. & J. Gallo Winery (photo: Gallo)
Joseph Gallo: "I get nervous if I don't see a business opportunity"
Joseph Gallo is the son of the founder of Modesto-based E. & J. Gallo Winery, the largest exporter of wine in the United States. Today's representative of the Gallo dynasty was eventually tracked down for an interview in the sun-drenched vineyards of California. This goes a long way to explaining the taste consumers buy on European supermarket shelves – the grapes didn't have to work hard to flourish. Regrettably, this didn't turn out to be a sensuous wine-tasting affair with a devotee of Bacchus. Joseph Gallo appreciates wine, but wants to avoid the pitfalls of excessive connoisseurship. This is because, in the true American tradition, he considers himself first and foremost a businessman.
March 14, 2008

Talk with Delhaize boss Pierre-Olivier Beckers

Pierre-Olivier Beckers, Chairman, President & CEO Delhaize Group (photo: Anna-Maria Romanelli)
Pierre-Olivier Beckers: "We look for future growth" (photo: Anne-Maria Romanelli)
Pierre-Olivier Beckers looked cool, calm and collected at the head office of Delhaize Group in a commercial estate area of Brussels. The 49-year-old Chairman, President & CEO speaks good English with a slight American accent – a reflection of the importance of the United States to his family business which posted consolidated revenues of €19bn in 2007. So, given the complexity of doing business on both sides of the Pond, why has the family company also expanded to a number of tiny Balkan countries and far-away Indonesia? Beckers seems to have no problem explaining the logic behind this ambitious internationalisation strategy.
March 7, 2008

Box talk with Tetra Pak president Jönsson

Dennis Joensson (photo: Martin Bichsel)
Dennis Jönsson: "The boom in PET shows that some consumers are prepared to pay more" (photo: Martin Bichsel)
Dennis Jönsson, President & CEO, seemed perfectly at ease talking at Tetra Pak headquarters in Lausanne. This agreeable, quietly-spoken Scandinavian provided an intelligent review of the packaging industry, but that was the easy part. The world's largest manufacturer of packaging materials (net revenues: €8.8bn) stands at a strategic crossroad as it tries to satisfy conflicting consumer demands. Jönsson reveals how the Swedish family-owned company tries to square the circle. One of the tricks in his magic tool box is cost efficiency. With a view over Lake Geneva, not far from the hotel where Lord Byron stayed on his travels, Jönsson (52) must have one of the most pleasant offices in Europe. He may well need such a serene retreat. Retail customers in Germany, Tetra Pak's third-largest market, are obsessed with low prices.
December 21, 2007

BIM boss Jos Simons talks Turkish retail

Jos Simons, CEO BIM (photo: Thomas Fedra)
Jos Simons: "Sometimes Aldi and Lidl are too far ahead of their time" (photo: Thomas Fedra)
Former Aldi manager Jos Simons is the likeable Dutch CEO of BIM, Turkey's largest discounter. BIM's revenues of €2bn also make it the second-largest retailer in this dynamic threshold country. This Turkish version of German discounter Aldi has expanded aggressively in its home country from the mid-90s. Since its IPO on the Istanbul bourse in June 2005, BIM went into overdrive and now runs more than 2,500 stores. Obviously, the company's Germanophile Turkish owners have been doing something right. Is their success attributable to the consistency with which they have adhered to the Aldi system, or to their flair for adaptation to local circumstances? This is clearly an international manager who understands the local mentality and how to do business there.
December 7, 2007

Jones Lang Lasalle CEO Dyer talks real estate

Colin Dyer, CEO Jones Lang Lasalle (photo: JLS)
Colin Dyer: "We are often on the ground before the retailers get there" (photo: JLS)
It took a three-way conference call with Chicago and London as well as a lot of juggling with time zones to set up this interview. But it was worth the effort for some cross sector insight. Colin Dyer (56) is CEO & President of Jones Lang Lasalle Inc., the world's leading real estate services firm, and is based at the group holding in Chicago. He was assisted by fellow Englishman Richard Bloxam, Director European Retail Capital Markets, who works from corporate headquarters in London. Can these guys really help retailers achieve good returns on their commercial real estate base and leverage the latent profitability within a property portfolio? Or does becoming a tenant in your own store just create long-term costs? Is there still hope for department stores? And where are the global hotspots for commercial real estate?
September 14, 2007

Talking beer with SABMiller

Alan Clark, International Director SABMiller (photo: Thomas Fedra)
Alan Clark: "I'm a purist when it comes to brands" (photo: Thomas Fedra)
Like most South Africans, Dr. Alan Clark (50), managing director of SABMiller Europe, is a no-nonsense type of person with an intriguing accent. Tall and lanky, he looks like a winger for the Springboks rugby team. Posting 2008/09 group revenues in excess of €17bn, the London-based brewery, which originally hailed from the Republic of South Africa, stands like a tower in the global beer industry. SABMiller has been one of the largest buyers on the European market and now runs domestic brewing operations in eight European countries. Given Germany's long heritage in the amber nectar of the Gods, it is strange that the company has never entered the country to date. An anomaly or simply a lack of opportunity? We wanted to know why from the man running the show.
July 27, 2007

Smithfield Foods CEO Larry Pope talks Big Meat

Larry Pope, CEO Smithfield (photo: Johan Weemhoff)
Larry Pope: "As Americans we have learned that, although the EU may call itself a Common Market, there is not one Europe" (photo: Johan Weemhoff)
C. Larry Pope of Smithfield Foods, Inc. is eminently a family man from Virginia and a strong local patriot. The boss of the world's largest pork producer and processor (2008/09 revenues: $12.5bn; €8.8bn) is optimistic with a typically American "can-do" attitude. Pope (54) was quite humorous about the trade, but, regrettably, deleted his jokes when authorising the text. Perhaps this was because he doesn't have an exaggerated trust in journalists. "I hope you are going to write what I say and not what you think I said." Unusually for a Chief Executive, Larry Pope wasn't afraid to talk politics. But perhaps this isn't so surprising when it comes to the international meat trade. After all, it has always had a political dimension and one which could well grow, given the increasing tensions in global economic trade flows. The Americans are a pragmatic business people. Some of the tax-heavy regimes built up in the EU must look petty and smug when viewed from the other side of the Pond. But how would our polite Virginian phrase this?
June 29, 2007

Talk with Colruyt chairman Jef Colruyt

Jef Colruyt, CEO Colruyt (photo: Reinhard Rosendahl)
Jef Colruyt: "Big retailers don't always have small prices" (photo: Reinhard Rosendahl)
Founder-son Jef Colruyt is so shy and self-effacing that one could almost forget that he has a very exciting turnaround story to tell. The offices of the quietly spoken, 50-year-old chairman & director at Colruyt headquarters in Halle are so modest and functional that one wonders if one has not wandered into the porter's lodge by mistake. In fact, price-aggressive supermarket operator Colruyt is the comeback story of Belgian retailing. After international discount giant Aldi entered the tiny market in the mid-70s, the family-run company began to lose its footing. When fellow German discounter Lidl and French hypermarket heavyweight Carrefour followed, Colruyt looked positively punch-drunk. It was essentially Jef Colruyt who got the company off the ropes to make it a local hero in Europe. Now things are looking up again. In fact, the company posted 2006/07 revenues of €6.3bn. How did he do it, and where does he go from here?